_As previously discussed in Five Points to Ponder two weeks ago, even the drivers at the top of the Nationwide Series food chain are facing a great deal of uncertainty regarding their futures in the series for 2012. Be it losing sponsors, lacking sponsors or still waiting for a contract renewal, there’s more than a full field of drivers wondering if they’ll be taking the wheel at Daytona come February. Here’s five rides that absolutely need to happen for the Nationwide ranks in 2012._
It’s a shame Carl Edwards didn’t pull a Jeff Gordon and get completely out of Nationwide racing for 2012, because over in the ARCA ranks the Ford camp has quite the prospect waiting in the wings. The younger brother of James (who’s busy threatening for a Truck Series title this season), Chris has been a regular in the ARCA Racing Series this year, and has made quite the name for himself. The same driver that swept the Toledo races a year ago, Buescher has won multiple races this season as well and sits second in the points behind only the RCR powerhouse of Ty Dillon in that series, including a triumph on the dirt track at DuQuoin.
Buescher’s short-track prowess was something I got to witness firsthand at Toledo last spring, a race that saw the Roulo Racing driver prove to be the only car in the field without a scratch on it as he dominated the field, only to return in the fall and win again. What’s more, Buescher was the driver tapped to fill in on next to no notice for Trevor Bayne during his medical leave of absence this season, posting top 20s in both his Nationwide Series debut at Richmond and his first visit to Darlington the following week. Chris has gotten himself into some trouble on the track at times (Buescher drew ire from a number of ARCA teams last season when he wrecked Justin Marks racing for the lead at New Jersey), but in terms of talent, it’s there. The younger Buescher is very reminiscent of David Ragan…before Ragan fell below lofty expectations. With Stenhouse all but Cup-ready, there’s something to be said for having another fresh face in a stout Roush Mustang.
About as close to a full-time start-and-parker as can be found on the circuit lately, Carter got to run one race the distance so far this year…and turned in a top 20 doing it for the underdog Go Green Racing team. It’s just the latest understated success the son of longtime car owner Travis Carter has enjoyed while driving; Carter was the driver who took the wheel of the famed No. 46 ARCA car after nine-time champion Frank Kimmel left to form his own team, and in doing so won a race and finished third in points in his first full-time ARCA campaign. Later taking the wheel of the No. 61 Specialty Racing entry in the Nationwide ranks back in 2009, Carter got the perennially underfunded team top 15 results at both Daytona and Bristol.
Granted, that whole ride went up in smoke after a controversial squabble between driver and Specialty owner Doug Taylor in the garage at Charlotte that fall. That’s cause for concern, but an owner looking for a diamond in the rough might not have to look much farther than the back of the garage this season. Behind the wheel, Carter’s continually found a way to get it done.
The 2000 NNS champion has been on the far opposite side of the spectrum in 2011, serving as a full-time start-and-parker for Tri-Star Motorsports to help keep Mike Bliss’ No. 19 car on the track. Sadly, that’s kind of the story for all of the Green brothers, who between the three of them have two Nationwide titles and 25 wins. Yet in 2011, David has been seen nowhere but the occasional start-and-park for Jay Robinson Racing, with Mark Green doing that same gig frequently for JRR’s No. 49 team.
It’s always good to see development drivers Nationwide racing, but there’s plenty of veterans out there that have left their mark on this series. And between Jeff, who’s 2000 title run with PPC Racing was just as dominant as any Cup regular has ever put together the past five seasons, and David, long the veteran face of the series driving Brewco Motorsports’ iconic Timber Wolf car, it’d be a real treat for at least one of the Green brothers to get a shot at racing here again. Look up the definition of Nationwide regular, and right alongside Jason Keller are the Greens.
*SAM HORNISH JR.*
On the stats sheet, Hornish is still coming nowhere close to matching his open-wheel results in stock cars. But that’s completely ignorant of just how strong Hornish has run in his limited starts this season. Finally racing at the developmental level that Hornish should have started at before his failed first attempt at Cup, the former IndyCar champ has proven fully capable of getting the job done at this level. Driving in relief of Brad Keselowski at Iowa, Hornish led 39 laps and was a factor for the win before finding trouble late. Just recently at Chicago, Hornish was a fixture in the top 10 and finished fifth; had he had a full-time pit crew instead of a developmental bunch (the No. 12 team is part-time, comprised of largely staff from the Penske shop) that result would have been stronger.
Hornish’s first attempt at stock cars saw him go straight to Cup at the demands of sponsor Mobil One. Now, he’s where he should have been, and the true talent of the Defiance, Ohio native has been on display. There’s a reason Penske Racing has shown the loyalty to Hornish they have…here’s hoping that loyalty translates into something tangible in 2012.
Yes, he’s currently got a ride and has been full-time at this level since the latter half of 2005. But Leffler is now searching; though longtime sponsor Great Clips is reportedly to return to Turner Motorsports next year, they will not be doing so with a driver they’ve been sponsoring for the past half decade. Leffler’s been the mark of consistency, finishing in the top 10 in points for five consecutive seasons while winning Toyota’s first NNS race back in 2007.
Trouble is, that 2007 win at ORP was the last one Leffler has notched. He’s been close countless times and a near fixture in the top 10, but has been unable to find victory lane nonetheless. And with the way the Nationwide Series is being telecast these days, its hard to get noticed without trophies and leading scores of laps.
That being said, Leffler’s as regular as they come at this level. He’s played the good soldier, driving multiple rides the past few seasons to accommodate Kasey Kahne’s double-dipping. And in terms of still getting the job done, the results are still there. Leffler’s got a few seasons left in him for sure, and considering what he’s given in terms of competitiveness to this series for years now, it’d be a shame to see him out of the fold next year.
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